We talked a lot last year following the signing of Eric Ebron in free agency about the possibility of the Pittsburgh Steelers expanding the use of 12 personnel, or two-tight end sets, paired with Vance McDonald. As the latter slid into a secondary, blocking role, that never came to fruition. Now, the discussion is alive again following the drafting of Pat Freiermuth in the second round.
Ebron and Freiermuth are both capable pass-catchers, whereas the latter can also contribute as a blocker. His presence on the field can be more beneficial in masking plays, not tipping whether or not it’s a run or a pass.
It’s worth noting that, for the first time in many years, the Steelers also have a new tight ends coach following the retirement of James Daniel. And the new guy, Alfredo Roberts, is prepared to go to the mat to get his guys on the field.
“Selfishly, I like to have 13 personnel”, he said, only half-jokingly, “but the receiver group here is so, so talented, we’re gonna be fighting for playtime. It’s gonna be fun to have those meeting to game plan. When you have some of the targets that we’ve drafted, a fantastic runner, and the guys that are already on this roster, it’s gonna be fun to game plan and get ready each week.”
Now, that doesn’t exactly sound like somebody who’s expecting to get his guys on the field for 500 snaps a season. He certainly will be fighting for those 12 personnel groupings. Earlier in his conference call, he likened the duo of Ebron and Freiermuth to Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen when he was with the Indianapolis Colts, and that worked well for that offense.
Both Ebron and Freiermuth are red zone targets, which should certainly come in handy. The real question when it comes to the latest face in the Steelers’ (virtual) locker room is at how many dimensions he can reliably play in the passing game.
Collegiately at Penn State, he did quite a bit of his work underneath and shallow. It remains to be seen how much of that is a reflection on his range and how much of that can be attributed to the limitations the Nittany Lions have had at the quarterback position during his tenure.
He still caught 92 passes for 1,185 yards and 16 touchdowns over the course of 29 college games at Penn State, very good numbers relatively speaking. He put up over 300 yards in just four games in an injury-shortened season in 2020. Pittsburgh can work out over time how his skill set translates in their offense.